To Make the Most of Your Career, Slow Down and Ask Questions

There's more to life than living on autopilot.

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Curt Rosengren
For most of us, work is a mandatory part of our lives. We have to work to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

But while the financial motive for working is important, too many people never go beyond that. They invest a huge portion of their waking hours in return for a paycheck and nothing more.

[See 5 Ways to Overcome Your Job-Search Frustration.]

Your career has the potential to be more than just a source of income. It has the potential to be a rich, fulfilling, energizing way to invest the limited ticks of the clock you have on this planet. But if you’re going to tap into that potential, you have to pay attention.

Slow down and ask questions

When was the last time you slowed down, took a look at your career, and asked yourself, "Why am I doing this? What’s in this for me? What are the end results of my efforts? Do I care about that? Is this really what I want to be doing? Is this really where I want to be going?"

Even if you start out on the right track in a career you love, in our fast-paced, goal-oriented world it’s easy to get so caught up with taking action that you lose your focus. You end up as the puppet, and what you’re doing becomes the puppet-master. Eventually, you start running on autopilot, losing that sense of where you are going and why.

Instead of working on autopilot, how about building a regular time for reflection into your journey?

Use questions as a career development tool

Before I go any further, I can already hear that voice in some of you saying, “Get real! Times are hard out there. I’m just lucky to have a job."

[See 6 Ways You Stay Limited and Stuck in Your Career.]

And you’re absolutely right. If you have a job, you’re right to be thankful for it. If you don’t have a job and you need one right away, you’re right that work you love is probably a secondary issue.

But it’s not an either/or question. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from creating a habit of asking questions as a career development tool. Your career isn’t static. Change is a constant, and you can take advantage of that by asking questions and looking for opportunities to act on the resulting insights.

Start off with some self-exploration to get a solid understanding of what energizes you. Then ask questions like:

  • How can I bring more of what energizes me into my current job?
  • What do I love about my current job? How can I do more of that?
  • What drives me nuts about my current job? Is there any way to change that?
  • Where do I want to go in the long term? What needs to happen for me to get there? What steps can I start taking right now?
  • Am I on the right path?
  • Do I have a deep connection to where I'm going? Is my path coming from the heart, or has it become rote, or driven by something else, like old habits, fear, or someone else’s expectations?
  • Ultimately, it’s about both accepting where you are and growing into where you could be.

    Do you have to love your work? Of course not. Is life better when you do? I’ve had work I loved and work I loathed, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes. And a key to moving towards work that energizes you, or making sure you stay there if it already does, is slowing down and asking questions. If you spend your life running at top speed, you will inevitably lapse into autopilot. The answers to those questions will be a blur at best. Worse yet, you might not even be able to see the questions. You might have a vague (or not so vague) sense that something feels out of whack—but that’s nothing that accelerating just a bit more won’t fix, right? (Wrong.)

    There’s a voice that will tell you what’s happening (’s yours), but if you can’t stop long enough to listen, it might as well be mute. Make a habit of slowing down long enough to ask questions, and then put those insights to work.

    After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.